How David Letterman Offended Both Sarah Palin And Alex Rodriguez In One Joke

You can't make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, as the old saying goes, and if your career is in comedy, it's almost a certainty that you're going to crack an egg or two. Here, "crack an egg" means "offend someone egregiously" at least once or twice. For some comedians, offending the butt of their jokes is part of their comedic shtick. Just ask Don Rickles, who made a career out of viciously skewering his subjects.

David Letterman never went for Rickles' pointed style of making insulting jokes. Sure, his comedy was snarky, and sometimes veered into insult-comedy territory, but in the main, that wasn't his style. Nevertheless, in one fateful 2009 bit, as Observer reported, Letterman managed to deeply offend two people at the same time. One was, at the time anyway, a hugely-popular baseball player; the other was a politician no stranger to being the butt of jokes in late-night TV hosts' monologues. Nevertheless, this joke supposedly went several steps too far, and resulted in calls for boycotts and even the cancellation of Letterman's show. In a rare example of a public mea culpa, Letterman even apologized for the jape.

Letterman Offends Alex Rodriguez and Sarah Palin

Come with us back to the summer of 2009, a few months into the first Barack Obama administration. The 2008 election had just wrapped up a few months earlier, and Republican candidate John McCain had selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin was often the butt of the joke on late-night TV, for reasons that don't need to be rehashed here. At the time, her two oldest daughters were Bristol, who was 18-19 at the time, and Willow, who was 14-15 at the time (this is important). Alex Rodriguez was, at the time, the star infielder for the New York Yankees.

During his June 8 monologue, according to the National Organization for Women, Letterman cracked a joke that Palin's daughter — he didn't name which one — "was knocked up by Alex Rodriguez" when the family came through New York. The problem was that it was Willow who was in the Big Apple that week with her mother, not Bristol. In other words, Letterman had made a wisecrack about an act of statutory rape.

To say the joke didn't land well is an understatement in the extreme. Rodriguez was so upset that he considered getting psychological help, according to Observer, while even the National Organization for Women was outraged. "Comedians in search of a laugh should really know better than to snicker about men having sex with teenage girls," the organization wrote.

The Aftermath

Not unexpectedly, neither Sarah Palin nor Alex Rodriguez were particularly amused by David Letterman's joke, nor was the aforementioned National Organization for Women. The outrage got quite intense. As Observer reports, conservatives were particularly unhappy, and organized boycotts of the show's sponsors and even called for its cancellation.

Letterman later apologized, saying that his joke was "beyond flawed," and adding that "my intent was completely meaningless compared to the [audience's] perception... I'm sorry about it and I'll try to do better in the future."

Letterman's apology failed to hold any water with the National Organization for Women, which called his mea culpa "[only] something of an apology."

Letterman and his show appear to have weathered the storm just fine, as he obviously did not get canceled or fired in the aftermath. In fact, just a few years later, in 2013, Letterman plumbed the Rodriguez well again for humor, this time for a Top Ten List, which can be seen here, via YouTube.